The Anglo-Irish War, 1919-1921, received regular attention in U.S. newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books. Journalists based in Ireland and visiting correspondents provided daily coverage, which ranged from straight news to opinion pieces, including propaganda from both sides of the conflict and both sides of the Atlantic.
Rev. James H. Cotter and Francis Hackett were unique among the American press who contributed to this body of work. Both men were born in 19th century Ireland, emigrated separately in their teens, and became naturalized U.S. citizens. In 1920, they made separate but overlapping late July through late September trips to Ireland to visit family and report on the war.
Rev. Cotter, 63, and Hackett, 37, each detailed the atrocities they witnessed in Ireland for U.S. publications in October 1920. A month later, both testified about their experiences before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland. It is likely, but unclear, if their day-apart appearances at the Washington, D.C., hearings were prompted by their published work. Only one other journalist was among the three dozen American, Irish, and British witnesses called before the Commission from November 1920 through January 1921. Ruth Russell reported from Ireland in spring 1919 for the Chicago Daily News, then retold her experiences in magazine articles and a book published earlier in 1920.
Rev. Cotter and Hackett were hardly America’s first Irish immigrant journalists. Others included Jerome Collins, John F. Finerty, Patrick Ford, John Boyle O’Reilly, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, and Margaret Sullivan. During the Irish war, immigrants John Devoy owned and edited the Gaelic American, New York City, and Joseph McGarrity published the Irish Press, Philadelphia. What sets Hackett and Rev. Cotter apart is their summer 1920 travel to Ireland and American Commission testimony. It is unknown whether they read each other’s work or met in Washington that November.
‘Anxious to see conditions there’
Rev. Cotter emigrated from Tipperary in 1872, age 15, and was ordained at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1881. He became a Shakespeare scholar, author, and public speaker in addition to his priestly duties. Rev. Cotter served as editor-in-chief of the Catholic Union and Times in Buffalo, N.Y., and was a founder of the Catholic Press Association. He wrote for Donahoe’s Magazine, a Catholic-oriented general interest monthly, and later became an editor at The Columbiad, organ of the Knights of Columbus.Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Official Report, May 1921. Testimony of Rev. James H. Cotter, Nov. 18, 1920, pp. 75-91; “125th Anniversary … Continue reading
The priest was “proudly conscious of the character of Tipperary in everything which makes life estimable,” as he wrote in a 1915 column about the popular war song, “It’s A Long, Long Way to Tipperary.” He criticized the lyrics as “another instance of Albion’s [Great Britain’s] trickery to make Erin ridiculous.”
In the same column, Rev. Cotter revealed his Irish nationalist views by praising 19th century figures such as novelist and IRB man Charles Kickham; Young Islander William Smith O’Brien, “the lion-hearted”; and “the uniquely glorious” Robert Emmett of the 1798 and 1803 risings. “Let Ireland make the way to Tipperary short,” Rev. Cotter wrote, “by keeping her brave sons at at home for her great purpose and not permit them to go ways that they may never tread again. … God bless Tipperary! and control for her own destiny the fighting blood of her brave sons!””Tipperary”, The Catholic Tribune (St. Joseph, Missouri), Feb. 27, 1915, as cited from the Columbiad.
On Nov. 18, 1920, Rev. Cotter told the American Commission his return home was his first in 23 years. “I went to visit Ireland because I was anxious to see for myself the conditions there,” he said.Evidence, Cotter testimony, p. 75.; Year: 1930; Census Place: Upper, Lawrence, Ohio; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0021; FHL microfilm: 2341561; and Find a Grave database and images, memorial … Continue reading Shortly after his return to America, Rev. Cotter gave an interview to the New York American, which most likely was a written statement handed to the daily. The the weekly Gaelic American, New York, and the Kentucky Irish American, Louisville, soon republished the story. The priest said:
I personally saw many British atrocities and was fresh on the scene after others, and talked to the people. I made it a point to talk specially to Protestants. … I found that Protestants and Catholics alike are united in their firmness for Irish freedom. …
One murder was committed before my very eyes [at Galway.] … I was in Dublin the night [Sept. 23, Sinn Féin County Councillor] Jack Lynch was foully murdered at his room at the Exchange Hotel … I was in Limerick when a bomb was exploded in the next square and in Millstreet, Bantry and Cork when the nights were made hideous by armed ruffianism having all its own way.
Rev. Cotter also traveled to Brixton Prison in London to see Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney, then on hunger strike. The priest said he was denied access, but met outside the walls with Anna and Mary MacSwiney, the prisoner’s sisters. Rev. Cotter said the family used a camera that belonged to his niece to take a photo, which showed the hunger striker’s “terrible emaciation. The teeth protrude, the temples are hollow, the eyes sunken, but for all that the mighty majesty of the man suffuses a holy calm over his face.”Press accounts are dated Sept. 24, or just before Rev. Cotter sailed back to America. McSwiney died Oct. 25, 1920, age 41.
Rev. Cotter’s published account did not include his Sept. 10 visit to the Galway Express newspaper offices the morning after a military raid. “The owner of the paper was picking up pieces of broken type off the floor,” he told the American Commission. “They gathered together enough to print a paper on a sheet about the size of that (indicating a sheet of business letter size), and in big block letters on the top of the sheet was ‘Keep Cool,’ which is really the philosophy of the passiveness that Ireland is practicing right now.”The New Haven, Conn.-based staff of the Knights of Columbia’s Columbia magazine, 1921 successor title of Columbiad, told me there were no articles by Rev. Cotter in the October, November, and … Continue reading
In 1929, Rev. Cotter published Tipperary, which sprang from his 1915 column. He later worked as an associate editor and contributor to the The Irish World, New York, including a 1936 collection of his columns: Ireland: Travel Tabloids. I welcome information on locating a copy of either of these books, or more about Rev. Cotter. The priest died in 1947.
Next: Francis Hackett on ‘America’s moral interest’ in Ireland
|↑1||Evidence on Conditions in Ireland, The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland, Official Report, May 1921. Testimony of Rev. James H. Cotter, Nov. 18, 1920, pp. 75-91; “125th Anniversary of St. Lawrence O’Toole Church, Ironton, Ohio, 1852-1977”, a church-produced history, p. 17; and assorted period newspaper articles.|
|↑2||”Tipperary”, The Catholic Tribune (St. Joseph, Missouri), Feb. 27, 1915, as cited from the Columbiad.|
|↑3||Evidence, Cotter testimony, p. 75.; Year: 1930; Census Place: Upper, Lawrence, Ohio; Page: 6B; Enumeration District: 0021; FHL microfilm: 2341561; and Find a Grave database and images, memorial page for James H Cotter (19 Aug 1857–9 Dec 1947), Find a Grave Memorial ID 99674115, citing Sacred Heart Cemetery, Ironton, Lawrence County, Ohio, USA ; Maintained by CalamariGirl.|
|↑4||Press accounts are dated Sept. 24, or just before Rev. Cotter sailed back to America. McSwiney died Oct. 25, 1920, age 41.|
|↑5||The New Haven, Conn.-based staff of the Knights of Columbia’s Columbia magazine, 1921 successor title of Columbiad, told me there were no articles by Rev. Cotter in the October, November, and December 1920 issues. A more extensive review of the archive was not immediately possible.|